by Eric Clow
Gene Rodgers was many things. Far more than I could hope to cover in a blog article. He was a writer, performer, adventurer, activist, traveler, thrill-seeker, and TV producer. He was a dear friend to many in the disability community and beyond. He was a lover of pierogies and a ceaseless jokester, always the first to make a wisecrack. Though we miss him terribly, we reflect on his life with gratitude, gratitude that his life was so full, and that he shared it with us. He accomplished and experienced more than most people, disabled or not.
It isn’t hip to say you’re inspired by someone with a disability, but that’s exactly how I feel about Gene. Often when a disabled person is deemed “inspirational,” it’s because they bothered to get out of bed. We’re so saturated with the term that it’s lost its meaning. To inspire means to “fill someone with the urge or ability to do or feel something.” Gene lived a BIG life, and that gives me the urge to live a big life of my own. It instills the feeling that a big life is within my reach. It encourages me to mount my own thrilling adventures, though I think I’ll stop short of bungee jumping.
In the weeks since Gene’s passing, this has been the overwhelming emotion. A sense that my wildest dreams may be possible, that achieving them is worth the effort. And, of course, there’s a sadness that we won’t share any more meals, any other adventures. Thankfully, Gene captured some of his greatest moments in videos, photos, and words. I find comfort in these memories, in Gene’s voice and charisma, in his wicked sense of humor. I hope you will, too.
Gene the Adventurer
Gene was an adventure sports enthusiast. His exploits included scuba diving, sailing, bungee jumping, paragliding, skydiving, and even riding atop an elephant. He explored 44 countries on six continents. Enjoy this highlights reel set to the bluesy groove of his friend Jeff Moyer’s “Yes, I Can!”
Gene was a long-time participant in Actual Lives Austin, a performance project that transformed the raw material of disability life into theatre. In this memorable piece, Gene recounts his struggle and ultimate triumph over a packet of microwave popcorn. Watch “Popcorn Predator” here.
“Who Works Monday”
In Actual Lives, Gene met and befriended fellow performer, Dave Dauber. Dave dreamt that he couldn’t remember which of his care attendants was helping him the next day, and he woke up asking, “who works Monday?” Gene helped him write a skit that they filmed and edited in time to be shown in the lobby before the next Actual Lives show. The result was a hilarious disability take on Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First.” The audience loved it and encouraged Gene and Dave to create a TV show.
The Gene and Dave Show
Gene and Dave soon launched The Gene and Dave Show, a disability-focused infotainment show that aired on Access Austin. Over the next 15 years, they offered an informative and humorous glimpse into disability culture, spreading awareness and winning awards in the process. If you’ve never seen The Gene and Dave Show, this best-of compilation is a great place to start.
You can watch all Gene and Dave Show episodes here.
Trekking to Everest Base Camp might have been Gene’s most ambitious undertaking. This climb, sponsored by the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, challenged Gene physically and mentally, but it gave him a lot to write about. You can read the adventure in his own words in this six-part blog series.
Read more about Gene’s life in his autobiography, Awesome by Accident.
Celebrate Gene’s Life
Join us at Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge on Saturday, May 6th at 12:45 PM for a celebration of Gene’s life. Afterward we’ll head to Green Mesquite Barbeque on Barton Springs Road for more stories and memories.
We’ll also be honoring Gene with a tribute by his friend, Dave Dauber, as well as a reading of Gene’s story, “Ice Cream Angel,” at our Virtual Open Mic Sunday, May 7th at 1 PM. We hope to see you there!
1 thought on “Remembering Gene Rodgers”
Gene Rodger’s Memorial Sonnet
March 20, 2023
Oh Gene when I learned that you had left us here
Never again to laugh at your ready wit,
In our grief one truth becomes painfully clear;
A giant has been taken from our midst.
Gene your plans and then that terrible fall,
Learning to live in your broken body,
Alaska traded for warm Southwest’s call;
Advocating rights for everybody!
On screen host producing television,
Your world travels and feats of derring-do-
Then memoir gives us your heart’s clear vision,
We can live large passed tragedy it’s true.
Friends and family we have faith
That we will never die.
Geno leaps in triumph
Accessible sweet by and by.
With painful love,
Jeff and Cristi Moyer